When I was told last August that my candidacy for SDR had been accepted and one predicted outcome was walking with a single point cane indoors, I was thrilled. I’d never been able to walk with a cane. The possibility was so exciting to me. But we know this by now.
Back in March, I posted videos on my personal social media pages of me walking with a cane, wearing a gait belt, all under the careful eye of my physical therapist. Those who watched the video liked it and commented, which is all well and good. They cheered me on with words of encouragement and I appreciate it more than I can possibly express.
Watching the video versus actually experiencing it in real time are two completely different things, even for me. Looking at the videos stored on my computer as I sit comfortably in my desk chair and paying close attention to my gait pattern, my movements, the way my hand curls up in a show of nerves….it’s easy to critique and observe. Actually walking with the cane is different. I thought I’d go a little bit into what that’s like.
Because I’m holding the cane in my dominant hand, my right hand, it takes away that arm’s ability to catch me if I fall. My defense mechanism, if you will. The way we’ve practiced with the cane is as follows: move the cane forward at the same time as your left leg, taking a step. Then step with your right foot and leg all the way through. Repeat. Sounds easy enough, right? I thought so too. I was wrong. My physical therapist had to literally tell me which leg to move, at times even literally tapping it so the message would translate.
It’s June, and at this point I can walk with the cane without a gait belt but with someone beside me. I’ve found that if they stand on my left side, the side without the cane, I can take steps and get across the space. I’ve noticed that if the person next to me is holding my hand, I take bigger, more confident steps. When they let go, I immediately take smaller steps. You might be thinking it’s because she’s afraid. You’re right in part. It’s scary as hell. I don’t want my legs or back to give out because I still feel physically weak in some ways. I really don’t want to fall.
I’ve also noticed that when we start to walk, my therapist will have his hand on my right shoulder. Soon though, he’ll let go and I will keep going, walking confidently. Y’know when you first started learning to ride a bicycle? It’s kinda like that. What does that mean? Well, I guess it means that I can physically walk with the cane. I just have to conquer the mental part, that is fighting through the fear of falling over. This can be extremely frustrating and rather tough. When I have to walk alone, say across the room back home, it’s like I’m trying to combat a mental block that doesn’t allow me to move. I feel frozen. Stuck. Trapped.
Another person walking with me does give me more confidence. I wish that weren’t the case. I just remind myself that I’m only four months post-op. That I’m doing pretty well. Still, recently I asked my physical therapist how to get more confidence regarding walking. I really, truly don’t know how to attain it.
“You just have to keep doing it,” he said.
What did we do? We went walking with the cane outside. This time I took teeny, puny steps, hyper aware of every dip and bump and ridge in the sidewalk. Every loose piece of litter I could slip and fall on, like I have so many times before. We walked to the corner, first with the gait belt then without.
The other day, we actually crossed the street. It was terrifying. Note, it was a quiet, calm residential street in Brooklyn, not a chaotic street in Manhattan, just for a comparison…but still. So scary. There were so many thoughts running through my head.
Take big steps. Confident steps.
Because of the curb cuts in the sidewalk, I had to pay attention to the inclines…going down, then the slight incline going up in the street, even ground, going down again, going up the curb cut. All of that disrupts my balance and requires great concentration. Picture trying to do that with huge, monstrous cars waiting for you to cross. Oh yeah, and you’re doing it against the timing of the light. Better make it before the light changes. Scared yet? Should be.
You don’t have to think about any of that when you cross the street, do you? When it’s your light, you hopefully still look and then you go. Simple. Uncomplicated. Easy. Well, it’s not for me. At least not right now. I gripped the cane so hard, I think I bruised my hand. When we got to the other side of the street I finally exhaled. Phew.
Needless to say, it’s a work in progress. It’s one I’m grateful to have, despite all its challenges. I’m grateful to my physical therapist who believes in me enough to think and know I can achieve this. At least I have this chance. It’s a chance I surely cherish.